EXAMS FACING A TESTING TIME

about 22 days ago
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Nitasha is tired, her eyes are tired and her brain is screaming for some rest. She tales a coffee break and looks at the clock, which shows that its past 1.30 am. But she is in no mood to sleep and is hoping that the strong coffee will keep her going till the wee hours of dawn, after which she will take short naps through the day while helping her mother complete the household chores and attend the online classes for her NEET 2020 exams.

This has been her routine for past few months. Corona upended everything that she knew as a ‘normal’ life. If things had been normal, by now, she would have got her results or even joined a college. But even now, she is studying and she does not know when her ‘studying’ will end.

Like Nitasha there are lakhs of students who have been preparing for the NEET and JEE exams for medical and engineering admissions respectively. These exams are extremely crucial more so than even the 12th Board exams and this one decides their future, their career. The anxiety and pressure on these children preparing for the exams is immense and ditto on the parents too. And currently, they do not know what they should worry about - the corona or the exams.

As of now, JEE (Main) is scheduled to be held from 1-6 September 2020, while NEET is scheduled for 13 September 2020. Due to the pandemic, the exams have already been postponed twice; they are usually held in April-May.

Around 16 lakh students had registered for NEET-UG this year, while close to 9.3 lakh students had registered for JEE-Mains (Paper I) that was conducted in January 2020. And we can expect the same numbers in this second phase too.

There is a debate raging across the country regarding these exams – to postpone or not? The students are divided right in the middle – some feel that a postponement will give them more time to study while others are horrified at this never-ending stress time. Parents are concerned about the health of the children – can they be asked to give the exams when the pandemic is surging? This debate has become completely political and many state CMs and leaders are demanding postponement.

But then, all those advocating postponement - does anyone have an idea when the pandemic will end? If we push it ahead to Nov or Dec, what is the guarantee that the pandemic will be under control till then? What if the situation is the same even then?

These exams are not some small fry tests as it puts the entire future of these students in a jeopardy. A loss of one academic year is not a joke. And what happens next year then? That time, we will have this batch and also the new batch, leading to complete chaos.

And on one hand, people are demanding that all economic activities be restored to normalcy, gyms and theaters be opened, get the trains and metros running. Their argument for that – we need to learn to live with the pandemic as we neither know when this will end nor will a vaccine be ready to roll till early 2021. So why isn’t the same logic applicable for the exams?

The Govt can take all schools and colleges across the country as exam centers to ensure there are maximum seating spaces available to ensure maintenance of social distancing. As of now, examination centres have been increased from 570 to 660 (for JEE Main) and 2,546 to 3,843 (for NEET). Also in case of JEE-Mains, the number of shifts have been increased from the earlier 8 to 12, and the number of candidates per shift has been reduced from earlier 1.32 lakh to 85,000 now.

There is simply no “quick alternative” for these exams and as said by the Govt, “it could set a precedent to dilute the entire admission process.”

Currently, just as the choice as been left to us – work from home or go to work, students and their parents need to make a choice – take the exams this Sept or give it a try next year. All should not be punished because a few feel that it’s a “risk.”

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